City Moment – Sense of a Place, Kabir Marg
Life of a traffic island.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A city gets truly authentic when it is not on show. Easier to find its soul in ordinary places, during ordinary moments, when nothing is happening. When one minute is like another minute; the rhythms of daily life staying uninterrupted.
So here is time passing on a central Delhi traffic island, wordlessly, uneventfully. Two men are lying on the tiled ground, asleep. Another man — older — is perched on the armrest of an abandoned chair. An abandoned sofa some steps away is unoccupied.
The traffic island marks the turning to Kabir Marg, off Panchkuian Road. It has the shape of a large leaf. The two men continue to be as motionless as the two cycle rickshaws parked beside them, while the elderly man on the armrest shuffles his feet. His head is bend down, his fingers playing with a button of his shirt.
But the setting’s protagonist has to be the gigantic peepal standing at the center of the traffic island. With its thousands leaves, it has the grandeur of a forest. It is broadcasting the collective twittering of what must be a great number of birds. Not one of them is to be seen, they are all hidden within the leaves. The peepal’s massive trunk is littered on all sides with broken idols of gods. Some of the statuettes are surreal in their disfigurement. A small idol has the head missing, along with a portion of the right leg. Another has every inch of its crevices and curves encrusted with sand, as if it had been buried deep under the ground for thousands of years.
But why is the elderly man choosing to sit on the uncomfortable armrest? The two sleeping men too have decided to lie on the hard ground, rather than on the sofa. A closer survey explains the oddity. The sofa’s upholstery, as well as of the chair, is gone, and what is there is crawling with white feathery insects.
Whatever, the damaged sofa, and the broken idols, appear an integral part of the surroundings; they might as well have grown out of this very mitti. A chai seller across the road says that this detritus comes from the flats of an adjacent apartment complex.
Now, one more rickshaw stops by the peepal. The rickshaw man shifts to the passenger’s seat and stays still.
The evening progresses. Nothing happens. The sun dips through the peepal. A dog appears. The elderly man on the chair quietly pats the dog’s head for several seconds.
Sometime later, one of the two sleeping men gets up from the floor, claims one of the two parked rickshaws and pedals away. The other man continues to sleep.